Hicham Ben Abdallah El Alaoui writes: The Arab Spring is not an outcome, it is a process. For those countries at the forefront of regional transformation, the fundamental question is can democracy become institutionalised? Though progress has been uneven and the outcomes of many state-society struggles have yet to be resolved, the answer is a cautious yes. In at least a few countries, we are witnessing the onset of democratic institutionalisation: whether the process of reform and transformation spreads to other parts of the Middle East depends on many factors — religious tensions, political mobilisation, regime adaptations, geopolitics. Meanwhile North Africa provides the most promising preview of the future.
Democratic institutionalisation means the healthy convergence of politics around three arenas of competition: elections, parliaments and constitutions. When these institutions are robust and durable, then the democratic governments they engender are relatively safe from radical groups, reactionary forces and authoritarian backsliding (due to alternation: democracies that uphold the rule of law and hold regular elections require that power alternates between competing parties).
In Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, this process is unfolding, if at an unsteady pace. All three have had founding legislative elections that were far more competitive and pluralistic than those held in their authoritarian past. In Tunisia, the project to re-craft the national constitution nears completion by the Constituent Assembly, which itself was the product of electoral competition. The crisis there has two dimensions: the new government’s passivity in response to Salafist violence (which came to an end after the attack on the US embassy in Tunis) and the delay in getting economic reform under way, especially in the poorest regions. In spite of often acute tensions and conflicts between different political interest groups, all but the tiniest minority have accepted that democracy is now the name of the game. [Continue reading…]